Students from across educational institutions in the country have sent a comprehensive letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) condemning the passing of the EIA Notification 2020, which, in its current form, they perceive as destructive for the ecology and the people of India.
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In an initiative spearheaded by an environmental group of Ashoka University (headed by Anjali Dalmia, 20, from Pune), these youth (aged 17-28) have requested that it be deferred, rewritten as per recommendations by experts, and released once health and survival are not a critical issue. Following is the complete draft of the letter that has been sent to the Minister:
To, Mr. Prakash Javadekar Hon’ble Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change Indira Paryavaran Bhawan Jorbagh Road, New Delhi – 110003 Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 24th June 2020
Subject: THE YOUTH UNIONS OF INDIA call for revision of EIA Notification 2020
Dear Shri. Prakash Javadekar Ji,
In March 2020, during the COVID pandemic and under your leadership, the MoEFCC released the Draft EIA 2020 Notification. We, the undersigned student representatives of our universities, are writing to you today to request you to put the current draft on hold on account of how destructive it can prove to be for the ecology and the people of our nation. We petition for the draft to be rewritten as per recommendations by experts and released once health and survival are not a critical issue, thereby leading India into a green recovery.
Despite the obvious improvement of rivers and lowered pollution levels during the lockdown period (suggesting our current industry and business models are not favourable to our ecosystem), we know that the ministry is still giving approvals to more mining, more industries, more mega constructions and more highways such as (source):
- Coal mining in Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, Assam
- A railway bridge through the Kawal Tiger Reserve, Telangana
- A highway through Mollem WildLife Sanctuary, Goa
- Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway
Over the last 50 years, around 50 million people in India have been displaced due to development projects such as these. Dams, mines, industrial development and others account for over 21 million development induced IDP (source).
It is appalling that the Ministry has put out a draft notification for public comments in the midst of a global economic and public health emergency when there is restricted public movement, social distancing and challenges to everyday life activities. This is true especially among the communities which are most likely to be affected by large scale projects, yet have no way of voicing their concerns. Hence, even the new deadline of June 30th is undesirable given the current circumstances.
Some of our main concerns regarding the EIA Notification 2020 draft include:
- The post-facto grant of approval to an EIA, which can be waived off through a fine (In an order of April 1 2020, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the notion of a post-facto EC, pronouncing it derogatory to the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence). The precautionary principle that states that “threats of serious or irreversible damage and lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation,” and this is clearly visible here. This superficial principle does not account for the costs of irrevocable damages to the environment and health of people. The cost of inefficient environment management is greater to bear than these more immediate costs.
- Shortened public consultation hearings to a maximum of 40 days and reduction of time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance. Reduction of time will pose a serious problem in those areas where information is not easily accessible or areas in which people are not that well aware of the process. As the Supreme Court has said in several judgements over the years, the time given to consultation should be adequate and, if it is not, then it is a violation of the principles of natural justice.
- Exemption of several large industries from public hearings (B2 category). This is inexplicable, considering that many of these projects are meant for the public from whom this information will be hidden. It also goes against international environmental law and agreements like the Stockholm Declaration 1972, the Rio Declaration 1992 and COP 25. Several red and orange industries have been moved from Category A (which needs expert appraisal) to Category B1 or B2 which have lesser EIA processes and B2 industries don’t need public consultation or EAC reports. These include, but are not limited to: chemical manufacturing and petroleum products, modernization of irrigation, buildings, construction and area development, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways, all projects concerning national defence and security or involving ‘other strategic considerations’ as determined by the central government, offshore projects located beyond 12 nautical miles (onshore or offshore oil and gas drilling etc.), and large-scale renewable energy projects like dams.
- The basis for classification of projects is very normative. It only depends on their size and capacity, and not just their impact on the environment and health of the population. As India still requires experience to move from this classification, screening is a must. The size of a project and the environmental risks it could cause are not always positively correlated.
- Declaration of some areas as ‘economically sensitive areas’ without a public hearing or environmental clearance which poses a serious threat to delicate and highly unstable ecosystems like sacred groves, remnant forest patches and those that sustain critically endangered fauna like the Great Indian Bustard, Asiatic Lion and the Greater One-horned Rhino.
- Several red and orange toxic industries can now operate as close as 0-5 Km from a Protected Area in callous disregard for the diversity of our forests and our source of water. We call for a suitable scientific method to determine the appropriate distance from a PA Project.
- Increased validity of the environment clearances for mining projects (50 years vs 30 years currently) and river valley projects (15 years vs 10 years currently), thus increasing the risk of irreversible environmental, social and health consequences on account of the project remaining unnoticed for long
- Industries can submit just one compliance report a year rather than two, allowing for more leeway and a dilution of environmental details. During this period, certain irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project could go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time.
We urge you to go through the detailed expert recommendations made in this letter by R Rajamani and Sagar Dhara (Pg. 22-25).
We would like to reiterate that it is our generation which will be a victim of the devastating effects of these twisted and diluted laws like the new EIA draft. In the public interest, WE, THE YOUTH OF INDIA, request the environment ministry to bring adequate amendments to the draft EIA Notification 2020, as suggested by numerous experts such as scientists and prominent environmentalists. We call for transparency regarding the reasons for rejection or acceptance of amendments suggested by the public, and for the draft to be re-released once health and survival are not a critical issue. These would ensure that the draft can reach stakeholders directly, can be made more accessible, digestible and specific, and there can be informed public discussions about what this amendment means.
At COP 25, India exhibited its seriousness and steadfast approach to tackle climate change. This new draft will come as a major embarrassment to the country at the international level. It is also pertinent to note that India ranked a lowly 177 out of 180 countries in the last Environment Performance Index (EPI) 2018, a biennial report prepared by Yale and Columbia Universities along with the World Economic Forum (source).
We sincerely hope that when this COVID emergency is behind all of us, the Environment Ministry will encourage informed public participation as committed through Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and the Principles of Natural Justice. We, the youth, hope that the EIA can be used to bring India out of the COVID-19 pandemic as an environmentally aware country through a green recovery that strengthens the role of environmental and social protection of all people and nature instead of justifying the present forms of harmful development.
Tarang, The Environment Ministry
Ashoka University Student Government
- Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union
- All India Students’ Association (AISA)
- All India Students Federation
- Ambedkar University Delhi Students’ Union
- Ambiente, the Environment Club of IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), Mohali
- AVNI – The Eco Club of Gargi College
- Bangalore Student Community
- Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organisation (BASO)
- Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA),JNU
- Concern, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
- Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF), Jawaharlal Nehru University
- Dibrugarh University Students’ Union
- Ecological conservation and Habitat Restoration Organisation, Manipal Academy of Higher Education
- Environmental and Social Initiative Council, IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), Bhopal
- Environment Committee of NID (National Institute of Design), Ahmedabad
- Environment Protection and Awareness Club, BITS Pilani, Goa campus
- FridaysForFuture Ahmedabad (Youth Run)
- Independent Students/Youth
- Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union
- Jindal Global Law School, Student Council
- Jindal School of International Affairs, Student Council
- Legal Aid Clinic of Jindal Global Law School
- Muslim Students’ Federation
- Naga Students’ Union, Delhi
- Nature Committee of NUJS (West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences)
- Nature’s & Valley Club, NIT (National Institute of Technology) Andhra Pradesh
- Pondicherry University Students’ Council
- Prakriti, the Environment Society of LSR (Lady Shri Ram College for Women), Delhi University
- Progressive Students’ Union
- Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL) Independent Students
- Rotaract Club of O. P. Jindal Global University
- Shiv Nadar University: Sociology Society (Totem Pole), Literary and Spoken Arts Society (words.Ink)
- Student Bar Association, NLSIU (National Law School of India University)
- Student Council of School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal
- Student Council of St. Joseph’s College of Commerce (Autonomous)
- Student Council of TATA Institute of Social Science, Hyderabad
- Student Council of VNIT (Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur)
- Student Government of Mount Carmel College
- Students’ Association of AIIMS (All India Institutes of Medical Sciences) Bhopal
- Students’ Council of NIT (National Institute of Technology), Jamshedpur
- Students’ Federation of India
- Students’ Union, LSR (Lady Shri Ram College for Women), Delhi University
- Students’ Union, Lakshmibai college (Delhi University)
- Students’ Union (2019-2020), University of Hyderabad
- Sustainability Committee, Azim Premji University UG
- Tezpur University Students’ Union
- The Environment Club, FLAME University
- The Student Council, Jain University
- UCMA (United Conservation Movement Association) St. Joseph’s College
- Voice of Voiceless, NIT (National Institute of Technology) Rourkela
NOTE: The various unions have signed on behalf of their many students that may often be in the thousands.
Tarang, the Environment Ministry of Ashoka University, is an initiative of the Student Government at Ashoka University. Both Tarang and the team responsible for this initiative advocate for the support of the unions (that have signed this email) towards this statement only. Similarly, this email comes only from a group of concerned youth and is not politically motivated in any way whatsoever.
[The above article has been based on a Press Release and letter shared by the concerned student groups and is republished here with minimal edits.]